A partnered homosexual bishop has been ordained in Monmouth. Is the Church in Wales becoming more accepting of the LGBT community?
After the training session for the priesthood, Cherry Vann walked into a psychotherapy clinic, wondering how long she had to hide the secret from other members of the church.
She is a devout Christian, brought up in a religious family, always enthusiastic about helping and serving people. But still, there was a sharp thorn in her side, reminding her that she could never completely integrate into the group in the church because of her homosexuality.
“For most of my life, I’ve hidden my sexuality because I was frightened that if people knew I was gay. I would be rejected. And I could lose my job. I would lose my friends,” Bishop Cherry said.
Being taught that same-sex relationship is sexual immorality according to the Bible, she was suffering a serious inner conflict, torn between her faith in God and self-identity.
“When I was training for the ministry, I went into psychotherapy because of the disconnect between what was going on inside me and what I was hearing and feeling I had to be outside,” she said.
The 61-yar-old went through a prolonged journey serving as a priest at the Church in England, whereas throughout the entire 25-year priesthood, the fear of being refused by the church community had continued to loom large. Every single day, she was as if walking on the thin ice, afraid someone would find out the truth.
Living in fear for up to six decades, Bishop Cherry never thought one day there would be a chance for her to come out until the Church in Wales informed her of its decision to appoint her as a bishop. Suddenly, a modest amount of courage rose inside her.
“I think when you get to my age, you start to think, well, I’m fed up of living a lie, having to pretend, and feeling I’m being dishonest,” she said, knowing that the time has come, an opportunity to step out the comfort zone and stop concealing her sexual orientation.
“To come here to this new job, I felt this is the time being honest about who I am with the church,” she said.
Initially, Bishop Cherry was concerned about whether it’s appropriate for the church to allow an openly gay person who has a civil partnership to stand on this position. However, against all expectations, the other five bishops in Wales showed unanimous support and retained the decision of her enthronement.
“My bishop colleagues in Wales are very supportive. And that gave me the courage to be more honest and open,” she said. “I didn’t really think it would happen. So I was really excited. I’m really looking forward to the job and… My world hasn’t been the same since then.”
In fact, this result didn’t happen out of the blue. In 2016, the Church in Wales issued a public statement saying that gay and lesbian people should be welcomed and respected amid the accusation of homophobia.
Also, since the UK legalised same-sex marriage in 2014, churches have been urged to reconsider their relationship with the LGBTQ community.
The change in society has become inevitable, pushing religious groups towards the direction that is more open to homosexuality.
As Bishop Cherry said, “people are seeing gay people getting married, setting up homes, adopting children. And I think that’s forcing us, as a church, to think again about sexuality and about what it means to love and to give yourself to another person in a lifelong relationship.”
However, in terms of whether churches can accept same-sex marriage, there is still a long way to go.
In 2015, a vote on gay marriage carried out by the representatives of religious groups failed to reach an agreement.
At the end of last year, days before Bishop Cherry’s consecration ceremony, the Church in England released a document, confirming its position that marriage only belongs to heterosexual couples.
Despite many celebrating for their new lesbian Bishop, considerable hostility and a conservative backlash are still confronting her through online platforms.
“I know if you Google my name, there are some really horrible things on social media about me. There are blogs and Facebook messages. Very unkind and unpleasant. And I would say un-Christian,” Bishop Cherry said. “But I don’t look at those. I don’t think that would do me any good.”
Apart from the trolls online, by far no one has delivered any hurtful remarks to her face, while she said compared with them hiding behind an anonymous mask, she’d rather talk to them in person.
Bishop Cherry added, for homosexual Christians, the Church in England is still a difficult place to be and their sufferings should not be underestimated.
“In one of the churches in Manchester, a young girl who committed suicide because she was gay and because she felt that her church was against her and against who she was. That’s a terrible, terrible thing,” she said.
Bishop Cherry also highlighted that it would be dangerous for young lesbian or gay Christians to abruptly come out without cautiousness. Finding a supportive religious group or a church that is willing to include LGBTQ people should be prioritised.
“There’s nothing wrong with them. And one day, hopefully, they will find the courage and the support to come out as I have.”
In contrast, Bishop Cherry assumes the Church in Wales has more openness to LGBTQ people.
Last Saturday, during the “Meet the Bishop” event at St. Cadoc’s Church in Raglan, people packed the chapel with great excitement of seeing their new female bishop, describing her as a refreshing air amid the Church in Wales.
One of the Christians at the scene, Novice Sister Joanna, said, “I’m very excited to see what she’s going to do in the diocese and everything we’ve heard about her is so encouraging and so positive. We look forward to supporting her, welcoming her and her ministry.
“No matter your sexuality or your gender, you are made in the image of God. So to my mind, as a church, we can say, look, here is someone we are honouring as a bishop. This is who she is.”
Throughout Bishop Cherry’s lifelong faith in Christianity, she has never doubted God’s love for her in spite of her sexuality. All the fear was coming from the perspective of the church and the possible falling-out with friends.
She said although some verses in the Bible reveals sexual activity between people of the same gender is wrong, they are indicating sex outside of a loving, committed relationship.
“The Bible has a lot to say about love and about commitment, faithfulness, and being who God has made you to be. And for me, if you love somebody that cannot be wrong as long as it’s love in the sense of self-giving and selfless.”
Although Bishop Cherry declared that she will not be a campaigner of same-sex marriage, she still wishes her appointment of being an openly gay bishop can be the herald of a more open society, bringing hope and positive impacts on homosexual Christians.
She wants to tell those overwhelmed by self-doubt and fear, “Please believe that God loves you… and has created you who you are. And we are working together towards a church in a world where people who are gay are much better accepted.”